A HEATED debate about whether the date of Australia Day should change has divided Wimmera councils.
In a narrow vote at the annual National General Assembly of the Australian Local Government Association, delegates approved a motion for councils to consider ways to lobby the federal government to switch the date from January 26.
Only 126 delegates from the 560 councils represented at the meeting in Canberra voted on the motion, which was passed by the slimmest of margins with 64 in favour and 62 against.
Horsham Rural City mayor Pam Clarke attended the conference and voted against changing the date.
“We think our community worked really well with our Aboriginal community to celebrate Australia Day,” she said.
“Indigenous people do the Welcome to Country at our ceremonies and they present certificates to new citizens.
“We have a wonderful relationship already.”
Cr Clarke said other councils at the conference felt differently about the issue and thought the day was an insult to the Aboriginal community.
“We have one of the oldest cultures in the world and when we celebrate Australia Day, we celebrate all Australians,” she said.
Cr Clarke said councils at the conference were divided about moving the day.
“There was a very heated debate,” she said.
“Someone said that Australia Day was originally in July or August and it was then moved to January.
“To me, January 26 is not significant because of the date, but rather it’s a chance to celebrate who we are.”
West Wimmera Mayor Bruce Meyer also voted attended the conference and against the move.
He said it was the most controversial motion of the entire conference.
“It’s something that councils’ shouldn’t discuss,” he said.
“This is not in local government’s domain.”
However, Hindmarsh mayor Debra Nelson voted in favour of the date change.
“If the day causes distress, and we have seen that it does with a number of rallies happening throughout the country, it makes you wonder if we do need to consider moving it,” she said.
“Australia Day needs to be a day that everyone is happy about.”
Cr Nelson said while the debate wasn’t directly related to councils’ business, it was still an important discussion.
“While it isn’t in our core business, we are required to represent the community and advocate on behalf of them,” she said.
Representatives from Yarriambiack and Northern Grampians shires voted against the change.